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I know intransitive verbs are action verbs that have no receiver (or object), such as "She smiled." In the following sentence, "arrived" is the intransitive verb: "Huffing and puffing, we arrived at the classroom door with only seven seconds to spare."

I'm having trouble with this because I can see "door" as the object. "We arrived at the door."

Another example that puzzles me is "My brother laughed at the joke." The intransitive verb is "laughed." I don't understand why "joke" is not the object because that's what was laughed at.

Please help clear up my reasoning.

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You are confusing adverb(ial phrase)s with objects. In your example sentence

[... W]e arrived at the classroom door with only seven seconds to spare.

The new arrivals did nothing to the classroom that would make it an object of the action. Both "at the classroom" and "with only seven seconds to spare" are adverbial phrases. They refine the action described by the sentence, explaining where the subjects arrived and when. These are two of the major categories of adverbs. Some of the other categories are words or phrases that describe why or how the action occurred:

My brother laughed loudly at the joke.

There "loudly" is an adverb, and "at the joke" is an adverbial phrase.

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Transitive and intransitive are not semantic categories--categories based on a verb's meaning--but syntactic categories: categories based on the syntactic constructions into which a verb may enter.

Arrive and laugh are intransitive because neither takes an object, which is likewise a syntactic semantic category: not a "receiver" (which is a semantic category) but a noun or a noun phrase or a clause employed as internal argument of the verb. An object stands on its own, not introduced by a preposition. Similarly, an intransitive verb can stand on its own, without a either a semantic or a syntactic "receiver":

John laughed for joy.
Mary arrived on time.

At the door and at the joke are prepositional phrases just like for joy and on time.


Actually, laugh may be transitive, in constructions like They laughed him off the stage. But that's a meaning which doesn't come into play here.

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You don't arrive a place or laugh a joke. The preposition 'at' is giving you a reference between the action and the scene of the action, but the 'object' of the preposition is not the 'object' of the verb.

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Transitive and intransitive are not semantic categories--categories based on a verb's meaning--but syntactic categories: categories based on the syntactic constructions into which a verb may enter.

Arrive and laugh are intransitive because neither takes an object, which is likewise a syntactic semantic category: not a "receiver" (which is a semantic category) but a noun or a noun phrase or a clause employed as internal argument of the verb. An object stands on its own, not introduced by a preposition. Similarly, an intransitive verb can stand on its own, without a either a semantic or a syntactic "receiver":

John laughed. John laughed for joy.
Mary arrived on time.

At the door and at the joke are prepositional phrases just like for joy and on time.


Actually, laugh may be transitive, in constructions like They laughed him off the stage. But that's a meaning which doesn't come into play here.

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